Presenting and Pitching Remotely as a Team

Like many others in the Silicon Valley, we’ve been conducting business remotely most of the year.

By committing to more phone calls, email, messaging, and web-conferencing, we’ve been managing pretty well. But we’ve definitely noticed that 100% remote work can complicate many facets of business.

For example, we recently conducted a completely remote new business pitch and presentation.

We’ve presented to remote prospects before. And we’ve had a team member dial-in to participate in pitches in the past. But this time everything — from initial contact to opportunity assessment, team assembly, research, scheduling, creative development, pitch coordination, group presentation, and follow-up — was done at a distance.

remote presentation during COVID epidemic

Together apart

While many duties within a presentation development cycle are performed individually, the process as a whole requires group effort and layers of synchronization. In short, our entire methodology for preparation and delivery leans heavily on collaboration.

We’ve got the practice down to a fine art when we can walk across the office to ask a quick question or huddle in a conference room together to share knowledge, brainstorm, and strategize at any stage.

But take away our proximity to each other — and our conference room — and it becomes a very different experience.

Here are some things we learned about virtualizing the process.

It takes more time

You’ll need more time than usual for development when everyone is remote:

  • No tool or technology is as efficient as in-person communication. All the senses are engaged face to face. Things like body language and facial expression or changes in tone quickly impart volumes of information that just doesn’t translate well digitally. 
  • It’s harder to have quick confabs on-the-fly when everyone’s remote. You can’t just glance across the room to capture opportune moments.
  • Group banter and consensus building is more difficult via phone or web conference, where interruption causes audio glitches and background noise often makes muted microphones necessary. Remote group conversation tends to be more linear, and thus more time consuming.
  • Managing complexity via messaging and/or email is laborious. But those are often the best available tools. So a lot of communication is going to be asynchronous. And writing and reading simply eat more time than talking and listening. 
  • Unexpected delays or cancellations are harder to recover from remotely. Anyone who’s been on standby in a Zoom waiting room for 3 minutes can attest to the seemingly interminable drag of time when scheduled web meetings don’t start promptly. 
  • People are more likely to wander away mentally or leap ahead to some other phase of planning when key players are absent. That means more follow up will be required to keep everyone on the same page. 
  • Schedule padded blocks of time for team planning. Expect a few inevitable calendar conflicts. And assume there’s going to be a lot of review to stay synchronized.

Planning and preparation

Coordinating as a group involves more forethought than simply scheduling a web meeting and distributing an agenda:

  • Decide in advance how you are going to manage your shared documentation. We started with email and switched to Box Notes so the whole team could add information in a single living document. 
  • Shared notes evolve quickly. Use subheads, links, and bullets to make information easy to scan. 
  • Deleted items will have to be hunted down and retrieved from revision history if/when they become relevant again. Keep a repository of abandoned information at the end of your documentation so it’s easier to revisit.
  • Version management is essential. Designate one individual to build/manage the presentation deck. Store the most recent version on a shared database accessible to the whole team in case of emergency.
  • How and where you share material is important. If you’re using messaging apps like Slack to share news/images/research with other members of your team, create a Channel. Don’t default to direct messages — this will preserve team access and awareness. It’s also a good idea to save relevant images and resources to a shared folder online.
  • Rehearse. Just as when preparing to present as a team in person, everyone needs to know when they will have the floor and be able to anticipate cues and transitions to keep things flowing smoothly.

Presenting remotely together

Presenting as a team remotely requires attention to choreography and technical issues that might not ordinarily cross your mind. Here are a few considerations and tips:

  • Make sure your computer position, microphone, and camera adhere to web meeting best practices.
  • Remember that everything is being viewed on a screen (often a small one). Participants will spend most of their time visually focused on a slide deck. Don’t bore your viewers by just reading the text aloud (unless you’re presenting to kindergarteners). Instead, interpret what is written, supply context, guide participants through the information that’s being put before them.
  • Within the confines of a web meeting, participants will usually appear as tiny heads on a grid (à la The Brady Bunch) or as highlighted faces in the margin depending on the speaker. At such small scale, you cannot easily make eye contact or signal with a gesture. Verbalize transitions to pass attention to another participant and address each other by name (“My colleague is the expert on this. Pal, can you jump in?”)
  • Similarly, scan faces for signs someone wants to interject/ask a question. Pause often, look for raised hands, circle back when you’re finished speaking (“Joe, it looked like you wanted to comment on the timeline, did you have a question?”).
  • Tools don’t always play well with other tools. Test your conferencing environment and presentation materials for compatibility and display issues ahead of time (missing fonts, unsupported image or animation formats, etc.). For example, we found that Keynote slide decks just don’t work properly in Microsoft Teams environments, so PowerPoint is the better option for such venues.
  • Try not to move around a lot or walk away from your webcam even if you’re not the speaker — it’s distracting. Turn off your webcam if you have to step out of view for any reason.
  • Don’t start real-time side-conversations in other channels (such as Slack, chat apps, or DMs). Give the meeting your full attention.
  • Fill awkward delays or technical glitches with congenial conversation. Ask a question. Engage. Sometimes a participant gets bumped offline, or a software application needs to be restarted. These things happen, but you don’t have to leave everyone silently staring at a screen until the issue is fixed.
  • Be considerate of everyone’s time. If you promised a pitch that would take half an hour, make sure it’s completed in 30 minutes. You may have to truncate parts of your presentation to adjust for conversation that organically develops around particular points. If post-presentation discussion naturally extends beyond the appointed time, that’s perfectly OK (in fact, it’s probably a great sign that you made an impact).

It can be done — and done well

Our all-remote team pitch ultimately came off remarkably well. Even with a few technical issues, we managed to learn a lot in the process and pull together a unified, cogent, and visually appealing presentation highlighting a host of relevant expertise from each member of the team.

More importantly, the remote presentation experience was energizing and fun. It delivered lively conversation with engaged and appreciative participants — and prospective future clients.

Should you be mind mapping?

“Brain fog” is a common complaint these days. But there are techniques that can help organize thoughts and tasks to cut through the haze. Have you ever tried mind mapping?

The Sterling team recently experimented with collective mind mapping to exercise our mental muscles and recharge our creative batteries.

Basically, a mind map is a way to work with information that is more experiential and less linear than simply jotting down notes.

The term “mind map” was coined by the late BBC personality and author Tony Buzan in the 1970s. Buzan’s mind maps were based on the “abstracting” principles of general semantics developed by Alfred Korzybski.

The principal involves crafting diagrams representing ideas, tasks, actions, and relationships around a central concept by using lines and shapes and images and colors — instead of relying on text alone.

The process forms a more communicative, memorable, and impactful exploration of information. 

Mind Maps are fun

Mind Mapping Sterling Communications
Sterling interactive mind map exercise.

To create a mind map, start with a single idea or topic. Then “grow” relational branches radiating from it to create a graphical data visualization.

Mind maps can be created with online tools. (We used Miro for our remote interactive exercise, but there are a variety of others available.) They can also be drawn by hand on paper or a whiteboard.  

They’re engaging

Simple Mind Map Diagram
Image credit: Safety Professionals Chennai / CC BY-SA

Depending on the depth of exploration desired, a mind map can be a sophisticated and highly detailed study or a quick and rudimentary sketch.

They’re practical

Simple mind map doodle.

Regardless of scale, mind maps are more intuitive than outlines and more informative than lists.

They are great for brainstorming and tend to spark creativity, so they form an excellent framework for collaborative documentation.

They’re also handy for personal use in simplifying complex processes, uncovering buried insight, or establishing clear structure for ideas that seem unwieldy. 

And that makes them a great tool for clearing brain fog!

The next time you have to take notes or outline a project, try structuring your thoughts as a mind map.

Here are some tips:

On a large blank piece of paper or online whiteboard, write a central topic or question in the middle of the page (or select a representative image) and circle it.

  • Begin by writing down ideas or descriptions branching out from the center circle as spokes or branches that are related to the central topic. Use symbols, shorthand, acronyms, and/or drawings to capture concepts. Don’t worry if they’re obvious or silly, that’s part of the process.
  • Try to find related sub-ideas or descriptions for each spoke/branch. Some may generate a whole new cluster with its own branches and sub-ideas. Draw a shape around these satellite hubs to emphasize them. If possible, use color and line thickness for linking ideas or emphasis.
  • Keep going until you fill the page, completely run out of ideas, or your allotted time runs out.
  • When you’re finished, take a moment to assess the map. If you spot connections/similarities on separate branches, draw a dotted line or arrows connecting them.

Review what you’ve done: Did any directions surprise you? Could you explain how your thoughts moved in retrospect? Do you have greater clarity on the topic or question?

We’re betting the answers will all be yes!

Media visibility = market share

Connecting the dots to grasp the business value of public relations

Wired UK recently published an interesting meetings-app analysis, titled “How Skype lost its crown to Zoom,” discussing how Zoom has become the consumer and corporate poster child for video conferencing in 2020. Yes, the pandemic drove its ascent. And yes, portability and feature development played their parts. It’s a good product, but so is Skype. So what gives?

The article illustrates something that is often difficult to convey when measuring the impact of marketing and public relations efforts on business success. Here’s the relevant snippet: 

“’If you look at the strength of Skype and Teams combined, they should be the ones having the Zoom moment but they’re not. It’s marketing, and a lot of people think of Skype as yesterday’s video calling.’ That’s echoed in the news coverage of video conferencing: according to data compiled by Muck Rack, a website collating journalism produced around the world, between May 2019 and February 2020, Skype consistently led media discussion around video conferencing. But when journalists started having to recommend software to use, they began mentioning Zoom more and more at the expense of Skype and other competitors. In March, Skype was mentioned in 51,000 articles, while Zoom gained mentions in 60,000 stories. By April, Skype remained the same, written about in 50,000 articles, while Zoom was included in 195,000 stories.”

media visibility

It’s worth noting that on April 1, MarketWatch reported that Zoom’s daily active user count was up 378% from a year earlier and monthly active users were up 186%. During the next 30 days, according to SensorTower, Zoom became the most downloaded non-game application worldwide with about 131 million installs.

There are a host of contributing factors to the Zoom Boom, and it probably won’t last forever. Security issues and market competition from upstarts like BlueJeans and heavy-hitters like Facebook and Google may impact long-term adoption.

But well-executed marketing outreach and public relations targeting media put Zoom on journalist radars. After a splashy IPO last year, keeping the company top-of-mind with writers and reporters translated into widespread media visibility at a strategic moment — and definitely brought the company to the attention of millions of potential new users as the pandemic unfolded and video conferencing became a de facto necessity. There is a direct correlation between Zoom’s remarkable growth spurt and its increased media visibility.

If people don’t know about your company, they don’t seek your services. 

Professional public relations attracts relevant media attention so that the people you want to reach will know who you are and what you do. 

In terms of business impact, Zoom’s current success shows that such media visibility can certainly drive market share. 

Media relations: 3 tips on perfecting the PR pitch

It seems like a good time to go over what makes a good PR pitch.

Why?

Oh, no reason. Well, maybe it does have something to do with the constant stream of reporters complaining about the terrible pitches they’re receiving from seemingly clueless PR professionals right now.

Folks, I know we’re all just trying to do our jobs. Public relations professionals play a variety of roles for a variety of different people. And when it comes to our relationships with journalists, sometimes that role is “punching bag.” That’s okay! We still love journalists.

And if you remember these three key steps when pitching, journalists might just come to love you, too.

1: Do your research

This is especially important right now: Even if you’re familiar with a journalist’s work, it’s a good idea to check up on what they’ve been covering lately—and how frequently, since coronavirus began dominating the news cycle. Many journalists have pivoted their beat to cover the virus or have slowed coverage of other topics. You’ll need to keep this in mind when pitching.

As always, you should only pitch reporters who truly would be interested in covering your story, so you’re not wasting anyone’s time—yours or theirs. Now is the perfect time to review journalists’ Twitter activity, too, and see if they’re already roasting your unfortunate brethren and their poorly worded or ill-timed pitches.

Basically, apply a bit of extra preparation and some restraint. If the journalist isn’t in the right place to receive your pitch for whatever reason, then don’t pitch them. It could end up hurting your future relationship with this person if you do.

And this is not the time to be garnering a bad reputation: Take it from someone with a name no one ever forgets.

2. Keep it brief

No one wants to be reading emails right now. Do you want to be reading emails right now? (That’s what I thought.)

So why would you send long-winded emails? Even if your pitch is a story match made in heaven for a particular reporter, they won’t have a lot of time to dedicate to reading it. So, keep it brief.

There’s no need to work every single detail into your initial pitch. If the journalist is interested in learning more, they’ll follow up. And they’ll appreciate you not wasting their time. Write out a list of all the information you would like to share with the journalist and pare down what must make it into the pitch and what you’ll save for any follow-up.

Your original pitch can be as short as four or five sentences (note that bullet points are particularly easy on the eyes). Briefly include:

  • Some kind of hook. Maybe this is where you mention that you saw they covered a pertinent topic or you provide an interesting statistic.
  • A brief introduction to your client as related to the subject. Don’t write the story for the journalist. Just offer an interesting direction for them to explore and a source of expertise (your client).
  • The call to action. Tell them what you want them to do or what you can do for them in simple terms: “Click here to read more/watch a video/see for yourself,” or “Let me know if you want to set up an interview/attend the event/learn more.”

Get those essentials into the shortest email you can before hitting send!

3. Read the room

Pretty much all anyone can talk or think about right now is coronavirus. Nothing like this has ever happened before in our lifetimes, and it’s affecting every aspect of our lives in unprecedented ways. This means we need to tread lightly these days, and not ignore the elephant in the room.

One basic tip on pitching in times of crisis is don’t, unless you have something relevant to offer — or you have no choice (and if that’s the case, I really am sorry).

We can all learn from the blistering response to Hot Pocket pitching itself as comfort food in the days after Sept. 11, and now we can also cringe along through The New York Times article roasting a PR professional for pitching her lingerie client at the height of the coronavirus. Those in the industry know that nothing in PR is executed alone. The reality is that the individuals publicly mocked for these major missteps probably had a team that faltered, too. Don’t fall into that same trap. Discuss pitching plans with your teams, plan together to chart the best way forward, and open those lines of communication with your clients on calibrating how best to tell their stories right now.

If the product or service isn’t helpful to the situation our world is in right now—and remember that journalists see right through those stretched “Hot Pocket” angles—then it might be best to give pitching a rest for a while. Keep monitoring your key journalists and the stories they’re telling.

Follow their lead.


This article was originally published as a contributed byline on PR Daily.

Sterling Advice on PR Pitching
PR Daily publishes expert advice from Sterling Communications.

We’re Suddenly All About Web Meetings

Since much of the world is working remotely at the moment and COVID-19 has put the kibosh on meeting in person, there’s been a surge in web conferencing to fill the communications void. All the tech events have gone virtual, the nightly talk show hosts now webcast from home, and Saturday Night Live even parodied the pitfalls of businesses adapting to Zoom togetherness. One startup cofounder is already publicly lamenting the uptick in meeting from home (MFH).

But like it or not, web meetings are here to stay for the duration.

We’ve always provided guidance for our clients on speaking with the media and appearing on camera, but MFH is a bit different. Taking the stress out of a now-common practice seems to be something everyone could use a few tips on these days. Here’s a brief overview on what you do and don’t need to web conference like a boss.

Equipment

Most modern PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones come with decent microphone and camera technology integrated into the device. 

Unless you’ll be broadcasting and recording for regular professional appearances on television or hosting your own podcast, you really don’t need to invest in purchasing a new webcam or XLR microphone. If you have the equipment, by all means use it, but it’s not essential for MFH. Microphone-equipped headphones or earbuds paired to your device are a nice accessory, especially if you’ll be participating from outdoors or anywhere with the potential for distracting background noise.

Setup

Make sure to test your web-conferencing app before the appointed time, and follow standard security/privacy guidelines.

Download any updates. If you’ll be screen-sharing documents, do a dry run to make sure you can launch and navigate through them in-app. Some web-meeting applications issue frequent background updates that may reset your preferences and permissions. That means you might be unable to pull up your PowerPoint slides at this week’s staff meeting without restarting, even though they worked fine last week.

Check microphone and video permissions and settings (make sure they’re enabled), and test sound and volume.

Position your computer or device so that the web camera is at eye level or slightly higher (stack your laptop on a couple of books if you have to) and make sure you aren’t backlit. Close the shades if you’re sitting in front of a window and dim any significant light sources coming from behind if you can — or position a lamp in front of you to illuminate your face.

web meeting tips
A backlit face (left) versus an illuminated face (right).

Virtual Meeting Tips

Try to look directly into the camera as much as possible. It’s the equivalent of maintaining eye-contact in person. 

If you’re in a large web conference or meeting, mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking. 

Try not to interrupt — wait until a speaker has finished before asking questions.

Unless you’re giving a presentation, don’t monopolize the conversation — give others a chance to participate.

If you are giving a presentation, make sure to pause frequently and ask if there are any questions before moving on.

Save the funny virtual backgrounds and filters for informal virtual gatherings. If you’re pitching a new client, MFH as the Cosmic Cat Head is not appropriate.

web meetings
Cosmic Cat web filter.

If your physical location is not something you want to broadcast on a web conference, a virtual standard office background is fine to use. 

web meetings
Generic office virtual background.

Be advised that virtual background function in Zoom and similar web meeting applications depends on specific bandwidth, processor, and/or green-screen requirements. But there are some free apps (like Snap Camera) that can help you workaround those limitations on many devices and operating systems.

And it may sound cliché but remember to be yourself and try to enjoy the opportunity to virtually leave your house. 

Gathering online for web meetings and conferences doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a great way to stay engaged, connect with each other, and collectively keep our spirits up during these isolating times. 

Public Relations 101: Advice on hosting media interviews

Lately I’ve been explaining my career to confused relatives and Lyft drivers like this: You know in movies when a person is being interviewed by a journalist and someone will jump in exclaiming, “My client doesn’t have to answer that” or “We have no further comment” or “This interview is over”? That’s me!

Okay, look. That technically is true, but any PR professional knows that hosting interviews rarely goes that way. Thank heavens!

Even so, hosting interviews is an essential function in public relations, and it can be nerve-racking. Doing it with grace is a significant hurdle for PR professionals looking to take the next step in their careers.

Although no one can anticipate everything that might happen in a media interview with a client, the following tips should serve as a helpful guide on the PR pro’s role as interview host, including how best to prepare. 

DogOnPhone
Image credit: Whimsyscript,, CC2.0.

Understand competing priorities

Everyone will enter the conversation wanting something different—and it’s your job to help deliver it all.

As a host, understanding everyone’s priorities sets the stage for a satisfying interaction. It may be something as simple as a spokesperson having a hard stop time due to another commitment. That means it will be up to you to watch the clock and jump in at the end to make sure the interview wraps on time—while graciously offering to follow up with the journalist on anything that might have been missed. More on that later!

There might be a relevant whitepaper or case study your client really wants to get in front of the journalist, and it’ll be your job to make that happen. But don’t neglect the reporter’s priorities, either. Ultimately, if they don’t get what they’re looking for from the interview, they likely aren’t going to cover your client.

Take the time to research their previous coverage and ask if there are specifics they want to discuss during the meeting. Empathize.

For example, a reporter from a science journal is likely going to be seeking technical particulars and figures, so you should try to connect them with a spokesperson who can speak to that level of detail — and send them that whitepaper your client loves, too. 

By anticipating what each individual wants from the interview, you can better prepare yourself to be helpful and guide a conversation that fairly addresses everyone’s priorities. 

Do your homework (and bring it with you)

This should be obvious, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Have everything prepared and right in front of you for the interview.

“Everything” might include the original pitch to the journalist, the speaking points you prepared for your client, the reporter’s Twitter or Muck Rack page listing their latest work, their relevant articles, your spokesperson’s title and name (and it’s pronunciation!), the dial-in information if it’s a phone/video call or everyone’s contact information if you’re meeting in person, a backup dial-in option if there are connectivity issues, a recording device, a notepad and pen…look, if I’m extra nervous before hosting an interview, I’ll even write down my own name and title just so I don’t forget it.

The point to all this preparation is that you won’t have to waste any time scrambling during those precious few minutes with a journalist’s full attention. The only thing you should be focused on during that time is listening and taking notes. 

Respect the reporter

It’s easy to get so caught up in taking care of your client that you forget an interview is a two-way conversation. Like I said, the journalist ultimately controls whether you get that sweet, sweet coverage you’re hoping for, so show them a little respect! Your clients and spokespeople may not know the basics of working with media, but PR professionals have no excuse.

Take heed of these sacred rules: 

  1. Don’t ask for the reporter’s questions in advance
    No respectable journalist ever shares their questions ahead of an interview, and it’s insulting to ask. Inquire about general topics they want to discuss, ask if there’s any advance material you can provide (whitepapers, product specifications, biographical information, etc.), and leave it at that.
  2. Don’t ask to see an article before it’s published
    Once the interview is over, it is out of your hands — you have no control over what the journalist will write. If there are factual errors in the resulting published piece, you can reach out and request corrections.
  3. Don’t interrupt unless you absolutely have to
    Frankly, no one is in that interview to hear from you. Try your best to be a silent witness, and only jump in when it’s really necessary (like a non-disclosure agreement is about to be broken or the client has another interview scheduled in five minutes). Extra details can be supplied via email with the journalist after the meeting if necessary, you don’t need to interject them during the conversation. Preserve the precious one-on-one time between the reporter and your client. 

The follow up

Arguably the most vital part of your role in hosting an interview happens after the conversation has ended. This is your opportunity to tie everything together and make sure everyone goes home happy by bringing the priorities back into focus.

First lay the groundwork by mentioning at the end of the interview that you will follow up with the journalist via email to share any materials that might have come up during the conversation. For example, if a spokesperson mentions a recent announcement during the interview, you should make sure you send that press release along to the reporter afterwards. In that email, you should also take the opportunity to share anything that might not have come up during the interview, like the big announcement your spokesperson should have mentioned or that whitepaper your client really wants to share. 

This email will also be your chance to clarify or elaborate on anything your client said on the call. A good spokesperson knows to answer the trickiest questions with something along the lines of, “let me get back to you on that.” The follow up is where that happens. 

Without diminishing the drama of those movie scenes where the PR pro calls the shots, these tips should demystify the real-world duties in hosting interviews. The job may not often play out like it does on the big screen but nurturing a connection between client and journalist is an art in its own right.

As with all things, practice makes perfect in becoming a hosting pro — over the course of your career you will get plenty of it and it won’t always be glamorous.

In the meantime, we won’t tell if you exaggerate a little to your next Lyft driver.

A version of this article was recently published on Muck Rack.


Like what you’ve read? Ready to learn more? Email us at go@sterlingpr.com or call us at (408) 395-5500. 

Tech PR trends in 2020: What’s next for your industry?

Sterling has deep roots in Silicon Valley. With over 30 years of industry experience, our days are spent helping amazingly cool tech companies shape their narratives and gain visibility.

We’ve witnessed explosive growth in new technologies, but we also watched the collapse of traditional media. Over the years, PR tactics evolved from standard press releases and media tours into sophisticated digital strategies that connect with target audiences on a deeper level. What lies ahead for brand storytelling, ROI measurement, and organic/earned media in the new decade?

Recently, Sterling Communications joined other leaders from top Bay Area agencies for an immersive panel held by San Jose State University and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). We answered these questions and more for an audience of sharp, eager undergrads who have their sights set on a career in public relations. 

San Jose State University PRSSA Agency Panel

Sterling Communications joined top Bay Area PR agencies at San Jose State University to discuss emerging trends in public relations. The SJSU Journalism and Mass Communications Department’s Public Relations program is nationally recognized and the only degree program of its kind in Northern California.

Responses below are drawn from the SJSU/PRSSA event and condensed for clarity.

1. How has the PR industry changed in the past five years? What do you predict will happen in the next 10 years?

Public relations and digital marketing have become even more intimately linked. PR has long been focused on press releases, pitching reporters, tradeshows, and media tours. But our craft morphed as the media landscape changed. Now, we are also expected to deliver on SEO and content strategy, and to support digital marketing metrics. Over the next decade, we’ll see increasing overlap between these previously siloed disciplines. PR will be expected to help support business and sales objectives more than ever. For example, a common modern key performance indicator (KPI) involves showing that public relations drives targeted customers to websites through supporting blog content and social media strategies.

2. What is the biggest challenge in the tech PR industry? 

Tech marketing leaders must understand that their brand is competing with a LOT of noise. Reporters receive upwards of a hundred pitches per day. According to MuckRack, there were more than six PR pros for every journalist in 2018. A successful PR program requires creativity and consistency to make your clients stand out and capture a share of the world’s shrinking attention span. 

3. What is a top misconception about PR, and how do you earn the trust of journalists? 

Journalists often think that PR practitioners don’t do their research and overhype their clients. When I left the journalism world, colleagues and mentors teased me for “going to the dark side” of the communications industry. Silicon Valley PR practitioners can combat these misconceptions by taking the time to understand their clients, specifically their technology and key differentiators. Become a trusted resource that journalists can come to with questions, and don’t pitch them anything that isn’t truly notable or newsworthy.  

4. What is the top skill you rely on as a PR professional? 

If I had to pick one marketing or PR skill with the highest value, it’s copywriting (hands down). Be the person your team can count on to craft that critical email, blog post, headline, or press release. In our meme and soundbite obsessed world, clear and concise writing is needed more than ever

5. Have you personally changed any beliefs about public relations over the past decade? 

I love my career and find it extremely interesting. But when I was a young journalist, I believed that most PR people were insincere spin doctors. Over the years, however, I’ve met many incredibly brilliant professional communicators and I’ve learned so much because of the way they champion their clients and causes. PR helps new ideas flourish and advances technologies that can make our world better in measurable ways. I’m excited to be so close to emerging technologies that impact our daily lives — and it’s gratifying to help tell those stories.

A version of this report was also published on MuckRack.


Interested in connecting with Sterling Communications about a career in Silicon Valley tech PR? Please email operations@sterlingpr.com, and follow us on Twitter

Better resolution results: 3 tips for PR goal-setting

The statistics are bleak: Although nearly half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year, 25% will abandon them in just the first week of January. Accomplishing goals is hard. We won’t hold it against you if you’ve already stopped vlogging your Peloton journey for your well-meaning but absolutely evil husband. 

Even so, the practice of goal-setting is still worth the effort: A study in Harvard Business Journal noted that those who actually set goals are 10x more likely to succeed at meeting them. 

meeting PR goals
Photo Credit: Christian Gidlöf, CCSA 3.0

At Sterling, we’ve already kicked off 2020 communications planning with most of our clients, and we’re actively pursuing identified targets and KPIs. After 30 years in the business, we know a thing or two about how to set good public relations (PR) goals — and meet them

Starting a new year with a solid plan is always a great idea, but it’s the results that matter in the end. Here are a few of our tips on how to set communications goals that won’t suffer the fate of most New Year’s resolutions.

  • Do your research. This is especially important in the B2B space, where the audience is niche enough that it can be hard to predict. If your annual goal is to place ten articles in trade magazines focused on a certain industry when there are only three publications that fit the criteria, your 2020 KPIs will be difficult if not impossible to meet. On the other hand, if your goal is to increase sales leads, you should research where your target audience gets their news: You might find that landing an article in Industrial Cranes Magazine generates more leads than a front-page mention in The New York Times. Research your audience and the outlets you’re targeting before setting your goals.
  • Keep it realistic. Over-reaching can trip up any New Year’s resolution. For example, if you’ve never set foot in a gym, then setting a goal of going every day is pretty unrealistic. An honest evaluation of where you’re starting isn’t shameful or negative — it sets you up for achievable success. Coveting thy neighbor must be set aside. It’s good to research your competitors for inspiration when goal setting. But it might not be the best use of time, effort, and money to set a goal like, “Gain more Twitter followers than [competitor],” when that competitor has a 10K-follower lead to start. A more realistic goal might be, “Gain 5% more followers on Twitter by EOY.” That goal has your company at the center of it — not someone else’s. 
  • Be flexible. Sometimes, even after doing your research and being realistic, the goals you set just don’t seem to be working. Maybe there’s an unanticipated holdup or the strategy you expected to get you there isn’t really moving the needle. It’s okay to take a step back and assess what’s working, and pivot as necessary. This is where monthly reports and weekly team syncs can come in handy. They can serve as checkpoints to evaluate how you’re doing and whether it might be time for a change. Evolution is a good thing. Goals don’t have to be set in stone — in fact, they may be doing you a disservice if they are. 

It’s never a bad time to start looking ahead, mapping out a destination, and planning how you want to get there. 

Have you identified your PR goals for 2020 yet? Sterling can help! Our approach to strategic communications goal setting helps companies stay laser-focused on what matters most to them, whether that’s driving website traffic, garnering positive media coverage, gaining a social media following, or simply getting your story told to the world at large. 

What is California’s new consumer privacy law and could you be fined?

If you’re not familiar with California’s new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), you’re not alone. In August, an IT security firm ran a survey of 625 business owners in California and found that almost half the respondents had never heard of the CCPA and less than 12% knew whether the law applied to their business. Now is the time for your company to assess the potential impact and take steps to comply with regulations if required. 

What is CCPA?

Taking effect on January 1, 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is modeled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and creates new consumer rights relating to the access, deletion, and sharing of personal information that is collected by businesses. The CCPA defines the responsibilities of businesses that collect and process personal information. The scope includes California businesses, as well as any business that conducts business with California residents. 

Among the rights ensured in CCPA are:

  • Consumers have the right to know all data collected on them, including what categories of data and why it is being acquired before it is collected, and any changes to its collection
  • Consumers have the right to refuse the sale of their information
  • Consumers have the right to request deletion of their data
  • Consumers have the right to opt-in before the sale of information on minors
  • Consumers have the right to know the categories of third parties with whom their data is shared, as well as those from whom their data was acquired
  • Consumers have the right to sue should breach occur or to ensure companies keep their information safe, and the state may also impose penalties for noncompliance or violation.

Which businesses are impacted?

The CCPA impacts both California-based businesses, as well as companies doing business with consumers in California. It applies to all businesses that meet any of the following three thresholds: 

  1. Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25,000,000.
  2. Buys, sells, or shares the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices. 
  3. Derives 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.

While the $25M gross annual revenue is intended to help small businesses and startups avoid CCPA requirements, many companies already have email lists or internal databases with more than 50,000 records of past, current, or prospective customers. If you’re using a marketing automation platform (for example, tools like Marketo, HubSpot, etc.), have ever bought or scraped email lists, or have simply been in business for an extended period of time, you might find the 50,000 record count threshold is easy to reach.

Note that “sharing” can include something as simple as passing information from a website form to your email provider (as with Constant Contact and similar software) or sharing information with Google Analytics (CCPA scope includes technical information that is passed by a user’s browser when they visit your website.) Even if your organization does not currently meet the three regulation thresholds, the CCPA is expected to become a model regulation that will be adopted by other states and, potentially, at the federal level. Ignore the CCPA at your own peril.

What is the potential exposure of non-compliance?

The California Attorney General’s office is scheduled to begin enforcement by July 1, 2020, with a twelve-month “look-back period” (to July 1, 2019), with fines up to $7,500 per violation. The specifics of enforcement are still being developed by the State of California. While the CCPA will generally be enforced by the California Attorney General, private citizens can also make claims directly against a company if there is certain unauthorized access and exfiltration, theft, or disclosure of non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information. (Note that this might include such things as unencrypted spreadsheets containing customer information on a stolen laptop.)

What to do now

We recommend that our clients be proactive in assessing the impact of regulation and taking steps to become compliant if needed. While the safest advice is to ask your legal counsel, there are several steps you can take on your own.

First, simply Google “CCPA compliance” or refer to the resource links below to get up to speed. 

Second, if you believe your company is either not impacted or that the business risk is minimal, we recommend that every client still update their website’s privacy policy to comply with CCPA requirements. (You do have a privacy policy on your website, right? If not, now’s a perfect time to create one!)

Third, if you believe your organization will be subject to CCPA requirements, now is the time to inventory the information you collect (or have collected in the past and stored). Determine what information you need to run your business. If you are collecting or archiving data that is no longer useful, you can reduce your exposure by cleaning up your data and deleting information that is no longer needed.

Additional CCPA Information Resources

We’re not lawyers, but Sterling has been working with clients with GDPR and CCPA compliance obligations. If you have questions or would like Sterling’s help, please contact Mark Bonham at (408)395-5500.